This week, Ancestry did three things to users’ accounts:
- Deleted 6-7.9 (inclusive) cM matches
- Deleted message folders
- Added a new feature, StoryScout
What is StoryScout?
StoryScout sniffs out various records and weaves them into a story, supposedly about YOUR ancestor. Some of these records are accurate and some aren’t. As genealogists we are used to hints, but not to unverified information portrayed as a “story” about our ancestor.
Seasoned genealogists understand the need to always be skeptical and require proof that any record actually refers to a specific person. Newer genealogists, perhaps not so much. I’ve already noticed several people thrilled that StoryScout is breaking down brick walls. While that certainly might be the case, StoryScout also might be storying about this – pardon the pun.
If you’re new and learning how to research, you can read about Genealogical Proof Standard, here.
Even more concerning is that there is a social media “share” button at the end of each story, encouraging the sharing of unvetted and unverified information in the form of heartwarming stories. I mean, who doesn’t want to learn that their ancestor fought in the Revolutionary War? Right?
A HUGE DOSE OF CAUTION is advised, along with additional research and confirmation before accepting any StoryScout stories as factually about your own ancestor.
Ancestry indicates that they begin with the ancestors in your tree. I’ve been building my tree for 40 years now, and ironically, some of the stories that Ancestry has stitched together actually contradict the legitimate information and records in my tree. For example, the identical person can’t be in two places at the same time.
Conversely, the same name, especially a common name, does not mean they are the same ancestor.
For purposes of reference, here are the first 4 generations of my tree, although StoryScout reaches back further in some cases.
Let’s take a look at how StoryScout works.
You’ll find StoryScout under the DNA menu, although it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with DNA. I wonder if StoryScout is on the DNA tab because this is a method that Ancestry is using to encourage DNA-testers to build trees. If so, I hope testers take the hint, but verify these stories first.
Since my ancestors are already in my tree and I didn’t need to add grandparents, I clicked on “take me to my stories.” Apparently, if you don’t have a tree, you can utilize these stories to build a tree. (I can’t tell you how much this terrifies me, especially for novices.)
Ancestry displays the 4 individuals I’ve listed as my grandparents in my tree, and the stories they’ve assembled about their lineage, shown at the top.
I clicked on the first story about my grandfather, John Whitney Ferverda.
Word of caution – many of the images are NOT your ancestors, but representative images.
For example, I saw this image and was immediately excited, because I initially thought that someone had found a previously unknown photo of my great-grandfather. Ancestry does say this, clearly, but it’s very easy to miss.
Each story has at least three pages, the cover page, above, the referenced record or information, and an invitation to share the story. Some stories include additional historical information about the record selection.
The second image for John Whitney Ferverda shows his draft registration. The background image is indeed HIS draft registration card, not a generic record, and clicking on the green search link shows his card in the collection.
Ancestry then provides additional historical information.
While the green search box on his draft registration image displays his record, the green search box below simply shows the historical photo, not related to my ancestor, and associated information about the photo. My ancestor is not in this photo which is absolutely fine, so long as people understand what they are seeing.
The most disappointing aspect of this story is that this draft registration from 1918, along with a corresponding WWII draft registration, was already attached to my tree.
This “story,” while accurate, did not provide me with anything I didn’t already know.
Sharing – Beware
The last page on every one of these stories is this invitation to share with family members by copying and pasting a link.
This concerns me greatly, not because I’m opposed in any way to sharing accurate stories, but because many, many inaccurate stories will now be widely shared. It’s a method of advertising for Ancestry as well.
If you copy and paste the link, this is what appears as a Facebook posting.
The problem, of course, is that this verbiage doesn’t say a *potential* story about your ancestor, and in this case, the verbiage would lead someone looking at the Facebook posting to immediately presume this photo IS the ancestor.
If you click on the social media link, the person viewing the record will see this warning – but they could interpret this to mean literally that this may not be their relative. In other words, maybe they are a friend and not a relative of yours, or maybe they are related on your maternal side and this is a paternal side photo. What it doesn’t say is that this information may be incorrectly identified to the ancestor in question.
So, if my first cousin who does descend from this great-grandparent looks at the information, and the information is incorrectly attributed to our common ancestor – they are now believing the story to be true because, I, the family genealogist shared it.
Not to mention that a family member immediately thought this was a photo of our ancestor and was asking if I knew which of two farms this was taken on, and when.
Ironically, there’s a photo of my great-grandfather on my own tree that could have been used instead.
Grouping of Stories
After you’ve looked at each new story, they are grouped together by ancestral line. This group includes my grandfather, his parents and wife.
Some stories are rather generic, and you’ll have one for every ancestor in a particular census.
For example, several of my ancestors listed in the 1900 census have a “Working in America” story. This is fine so long as Ancestry selects the correct ancestor in the census. That doesn’t always happen, and numerous people have reported multiple stories that scatter the same ancestor across the country when in fact incorrect records were selected.
Every one of my female ancestors living in 1920 received a story about being alive when the 19th Amendment was ratified. That’s actually quite interesting and while it’s not about my ancestor exercising her right to vote, it does provide historical context of the time and place in which she lived. As it turns out, I had written about Edith Barbara Lore on that exact subject.
First and foremost, I’m looking for new, previously unknown, accurate information about my ancestors.
Secondarily, I want to make sure stories about my ancestor ARE actually about MY ancestor. Sharing accurate information is a wonderful way to interest other people in their ancestors, too, but some assurance needs to exist that information is accurate before being presented as a story. There also needs to be some methodology of flagging the information as incorrectly associated with this specific ancestor so Ancestry does not continue to propagate inaccurate information in the format of stories.
Having said that, leaf hints are wonderful, because they don’t infer any certainty. Ancestry already provides genealogical record hints in the form of leaf hints on trees.
These record hints are attached to people on my tree, NOT woven into stories, and give me the opportunity to review the hint. I can attach the document to my tree if it’s accurate, and to dismiss or ignore the hint otherwise. This is a responsible research methodology.
These leafy tree hints do NOT encourage me to share them. It would be nice if stories were only harvested from confirmed leaf hints.
StoryScout does NOT allow people to dismiss the story as inaccurate, nor do the stories seem to coordinate with the records already saved to my tree for that ancestor. I don’t know this for a fact, but if I received this story about this ancestor, other people with the same ancestor would probably receive the identical story – and you know that someone is going to share without verifying first.
How accurate are these stories?
I created a chart as I reviewed each story.
Right, Wrong, and FrankenAncestors
I created the following summary of my 14 StoryScout stories:
|John Whitney Ferverda||Grandfather||WWII Draft||Yes||Document previously attached in my tree|
|Edith Barbara Lore||Grandmother||Winning Right to Vote||Yes, alive in 1920||Generic information|
|Barbara Drechsel||gg-grandmother||Winning Right to Vote||Yes, alive in 1920||Generic information|
|Evaline Louise Miller||Great-grandmother||Winning Right to Vote||Yes, alive in 1920||Generic information|
|Michael McDowell||Gggg-grandfather||Revolution Militiaman||No, wrong person, wrong place||Same name confusion, his correct Rev War information is already attached to my tree|
|Andrew McKee||Gggg-grandfather||Clues from Lost Censuses||General, not about him||Not for him, simply says people can obtain information from old census information|
|James Mann (they show Robert James Mann)||Gggg-grandfather||Clues from Lost Censuses||No, wrong person, wrong place||Showed him in SC in 1780 (there was no 1780 census) but he was in Virginia.|
|John R. Estes||Ggg-grandfather||Clues from Lost Censuses||No, wrong person, wrong place||States that John R. Estes was in the 1820 census in TN, but they selected the wrong John Estes. He was in VA.|
|Nancy Ann Moore||Ggg-grandmother||Clues from Lost Censuses||No, wrong person, wrong place||States that she was in the 1820 census in TN, but she was in Virginia at the time. Only head of household listed in 1820 census, and she was not.|
|Joseph B. Bolton||Great-grandfather||Working in America in 1900||Yes||Census, previously attached to my tree|
|Lazarus Estes||Great-grandfather||Working in America in 1900||Yes||Census previously attached to my tree|
|Jacob Kirsch||Gg-grandfather||Working in America in 1900||Partly||Right person and place, but location recorded incorrectly and occupation was not “salovriest”|
|Lazarus Estes||Ggg-grandfather||Working as a postmaster||Yes||Document previously attached to my tree|
|William Moore||Gggg-grandfather||Fighting in the Continental Army||Probably wrong, cannot verify||Says he was a Lt., but no link or information to confirm. There are many William Moores who fought from VA, but none from Halifax County where he lived. There is no tree leaf record hint.|
It’s this last “story” about William Moore that excited me the most. There was no link to a record nor Ancestry leaf hint. I signed on to Fold3.com and, unfortunately, found no Revolutionary War record there for my William Moore who had lived in Halifax County, Virginia. The fact that Ancestry portrayed my William Moore as a Revolutionary War soldier without any type of documentation is both upsetting and provides misinformation that will be propagated for years to come by unsuspecting people to whom this information is provided either by Ancestry, or shared. William Moore had many descendants whom, I presume, are also receiving this “story.”
How Did StoryScout Do?
Of 14 total stories:
- 4 were accurate, although none provided information I didn’t already have
- 1 is partly accurate, but information I already had
- 4 are incorrect
- 4 are generic, but interesting
- 1, William Moore, is probably wrong, but since I don’t know what record Ancestry was referencing, I can’t verify or find a similar record
Here’s the bottom line – enjoy, and I hope you receive some useful hints that you can work with.
However, unless you confirm that this information is about YOUR ANCESTOR and is accurate, please, do NOT share. I know from unfortunate personal experience that information released into the wild can never actually be recalled and resurfaces again and again – the genealogical equivalent of whack-a-mole.
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